Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest

by

David Foster Wallace

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Infinite Jest: Chapter 49 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
9 November Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. There are currently 12 available spots at E.T.A., which Charles wants to fill only with male applicants because the current 64:72 male-to-female ratio needs correcting. At the moment, some girls are having to be housed in the boys’ dorms. Charles is deeply stressed by the many administrative conundrums currently affecting the academy. In passing it is then hinted that Charles is actually Mario’s father. At E.T.A., training times are split by gender and staggered, and the best players get up the earliest to begin their day. In between drills, students swig and spit Gatorade from little paper cups to combat “cottony mouth.” Today it is chilly but not too cold once the sun comes out.
Infinite Jest is filled with clues that are mentioned in passing and that can easily be missed. As a result, interpretations of the novel have been built communally, with many people contributing theories based on evidence that is extremely subtle and easy to miss, yet nonetheless important. (Another theory suggests that Hal is the son of one of the 30+ Near Eastern medical attachés Avril has slept with, although the evidence for this is less compelling than the Mario/Charles theory.)
Themes
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
A bucket is put out in case anyone throws up during the final conditioning drills (which, an endnote explains, are nicknamed “Pukers”). At 15, Hal injured his ankle while moving in a similar way to the Side-to-Side drill, so he gets to take this drill easy to avoid hurting himself again. Schtitt yells that he is seeing “sluggish drilling, by sluggards.” He accuses LaMont Chu of decreasing the effort he puts into training ever since he developed this obsession with tennis fame. When Hal suggests that they need to “adjust” to the cold conditions, Schtitt replies that they should instead focus on a world inside the world where there are no conditions.
Coach Schtitt’s humorous insistence that the students must combat the cold by attempting to delude themselves is typical of the kind of unrealistic demands that coaches can make in order to push players to the edge of their capabilities. Of course, a negative side effect of Schtitt’s advice is to further isolate the students, who are already divided from each other and effectively living alone in their own private worlds.
Themes
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Schtitt adds that if it is difficult for them to adjust between the warmth and cold of inside and outside, then they could simply do everything—sleep, eat, study—outside. At his own gymnasium in Germany, he says, he was forced to live inside the tennis courts for months in order to “learn to live inside.” He also points out that if the boys want to be somewhere else, they can always leave. When they are there, they must be fully present.
Schtitt’s point that the boys can leave if they want is a classic mark of asserting control within an institutional context. While it may literally be true that any student who decides to do so can leave E.T.A., the consequences of such a decision would be so immense that the choice Schtitt refers to is really an illusion.
Themes
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Ennet House’s other residential staffer is called Johnette Foltz, but it is rumored she might be leaving soon. Everyone at Ennet House hopes she will be replaced by the attractive Danielle Steenbok, who is “rumored also to attend Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.” Back when he was drinking, Gately’s driver’s license was revoked after he was given a DUI. Gately originally came to Ennet House to avoid going to jail, where he knew that drugs and alcohol would be easier to find than they were in the outside world.
One thing that is made emphatically clear in the novel is that people in recovery do not magically gain a robust moral compass simply by getting sober. The residents’ lust for Danielle Steenbook and the excitement over the rumor that she is in Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous is a perfect example of this fact.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
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Pat, who is “both pretty and not,” was divorced by her first husband because of her alcoholism. She had several stints in rehab before a stroke led her to give up drinking for good. When she first arrived at Ennet House, aged 32, she was almost completely paralyzed and used a wheelchair, yet still signaled that she was willing to eat a rock to prove her commitment to sobriety. Her right hand, on which she wears a brace, remains in a permanent claw position. Gately had been one of her favorite residents when he arrived.
Another way in which sexism surfaces in Infinite Jest is via the fact that almost every female character is evaluated on the basis of their attractiveness. Pat is not a romantic interest of anyone in the novel, yet it is still mentioned that she is “both pretty and not,” a detail that seems irrelevant to the rest of the way her character is portrayed.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Boston AA members compare the meetings to a cake mix: it doesn’t matter if you understand how it works, all you have to do is relax and follow the instructions and you’ll get a cake. Gately is Ennet House’s resident chef, which is odd because he isn’t a very good cook. However,  no one dares complain (at least not outright). Some even feign pleasure at the disgusting food he makes.
Although he is hardly free of flaws, Gately is certainly one of the “heroes” of the novel and is depicted in a sympathetic light. One aspect of this is his care for others. While he may be a terrible cook, he nonetheless nurtures the Ennet House community through food.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon